News Watch

Alaska-centric environmental legislation, research, action-alerts and opportunities

Arctic Policy:

The Arctic Council, which will be under Russian chairmanship for the next two years starting in May, is poised to focus on economic development in the region. This emphasis, as was the case during the Trump administration, distracts from a much-needed collaborative climate change policy for the region. Moreover, security issues in the Arctic are on the rise as northern nations compete for resources made more accessible with the retreat of sea ice. Read more here

The Climate Crisis:

The gulf stream, which moves ocean currents around the Atlantic in a clockwise direction, delivers Caribbean-warmed waters to much of the Eastern seaboard before swinging north toward the British Isles and Scandinavia, resulting in a much warmer climate than is typical at that latitude. But as the Greenland ice sheet warms and melts, a newly discovered cold blob off its southern tip has researchers worried that this global “conveyer belt” of warm water could slow or stall out. Such a dramatic shift in ocean currents would increase sea level rise along the Eastern seaboard, stronger hurricanes in the Southeastern US, greater potential for wide-spread drought in Africa, and longer, colder winters in Europe. Learn more about new research findings here.

Fin, Feather and Furbearing:

As you may have read in my recent piece The Green Fire – Wolves and the Essence of Wilderness, the Trump administration removed wolves from the endangered species list in January of this year. Under pressure from a hunting group in Wisconsin, hunting for wolves was opened in that state during the last week in February. In less than 60 hours a reported 216 wolves were killed, exceeding the limit of 119 wolves for hunters set by the state, and the hunt was closed four days early. It’s worth noting that another 81 wolves were allotted to the Ojibwe Tribe, but the tribe, out of reverence for the animals, opted not to participate in the hunt. With an estimated 1,200 gray wolves in the state prior to the hunt, this represents a significant setback to their recovery, especially as many of the animals taken were no doubt pregnant or nursing mothers. Read more here. And if you would like the Biden administration to relist the gray wolf, you can sign a petition to reinstate their protection here

An estimated 60,000 to 80,000 reindeer have died of starvation in Russia’s Yamal region this winter due to ice on top of snow, effectively cutting them off from their food supply. Ice an inch thick or more formed due to higher temperatures. 2020 was, in fact, the warmest year on record in the Arctic. A similar die-off occurred in Northern Norway in 2020 and in Russia in 2016. Read more here.  

A bit of good news – the Biden administration is reversing a Trump-era attack on the Migratory Bird Act by restoring protection for migratory birds against accidental but often preventable deaths. Read more here. Bird population numbers have declined by an estimated 29% since 1970, and need all the protection we can give them. See our blog post For the Love of Birds to learn more. 

Native American Policy:

More good news! Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, was sworn in as the U.S. Senate Cabinet’s head of the Interior Department on March 15th. Her appointment is significant not only because she is the first Native American to serve in a cabinet post throughout its 232-year history (a heartfelt thanks to Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan for their “yea” vote), but also because Haaland will head the agency that oversees the Department of Indian Affairs which represents 574 federally recognized Native American and Alaska Native tribes. 

Additionally, she will oversee the Bureau of Land Management with 245 million acres of public land. Much of this land is adjacent to Native lands with ongoing conflicts over oil, gas and mineral extractive processes. As an outspoken opponent of fracking and an early supporter of the Green New Deal, calling climate change the “challenge of our lifetime,” Haaland will work closely with the Biden administration to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, in keeping with the DOI’s mission, Haaland has pledged to focus on water pollution and warming streams that impact fish stocks. Read more here about Haaland and here about the roles of the DOI.

In a press release prior to her swearing in Haaland stated:

“We all have a stake in the future of our country. No matter your political party or Zip code, your ancestral heritage or income level, we all must take the formidable challenges that lie ahead seriously, and we will take them head-on, together.

“I am proud and humbled to lead the dedicated team at Interior as we seek to leave a livable planet for future generations. Together, we will work to advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes, address the climate and nature crises, advance environmental justice, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation.

“The change we need will take hard work and perseverance, but I know that together there is nothing we cannot accomplish.”